Maialino, Rabbit Meatball
I see no need to mince words here. Maialino's rabbit meatball, courtesy of Nick Anderer, was the best thing we ate all night. The meatball itself, a super-sized blend of charred scallions, chopped parsley, and "mostly rabbit," was so tender and moist, so deeply flavorful, that I could have eaten it plain and still been blown away. But, as it was served with rapini and pecorino "whiz," the incredible richness of flavor was upped further. The juices spilling from the meatball mixed with the liquified pecorino, creating a pseudo-gravy of funky aged cheese and salty rabbit. The bitterness of the rapini cut through the intense richness of the rest of the dish, but heartiness aside, this was a meatball that was impossible not to finish.
Kin Shop, Goat Meatball
Harold Dieterle's Kin Shop has been putting out some of New York's best, most interesting upscale Thai food since it opened. So it was not surprising that his creation—a goat meatball with boiled peanuts, tatsoi and Penang curry—was unique, flavorful, and incredibly delicious. Every bite seemed to reveal a new layer; first a salty burst from the meat, then sweetness from the rich curry, all accompanied by a slow build of heat and spice. The goat, ground finely into meatball form (the texture was perfect, without a hint of breadiness), lost all of the gaminess I associate with goat, retaining its succulent, savory taste.
Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto, Soppressata and Pork Meatball
"The Balls," as the meatballs from Cesare Casella's Salumeria Rosi Parmacotta were titled, tasted as unsubtle as their name would suggest. A combination of Onesti's soppressata, Coach Farm goat cheese, and La Frieda Berkshire pork, these balls tasted of pure, fatty, delicious pig. I got no hint of goat cheese but can't say I was terribly bothered; with a pork flavor so rich and satisfying, these balls were alright by me. A lovely, bright tasting tomato sauce (made with "La Droga": a secret Tuscan spice blend) and a small dollop of simple, well-prepared polenta balanced out the intensity of the pork, making for a very nice dish overall.
Artichoke Basille Pizza
One doesn't go to Francis Garcia's Artichoke for a light bite—this is the New York late-night institution that put spinach artichoke dip on pizza, for goodness sake. Their meatball creation was every bit as comforting, and every bit as satisfying. Sicilian-style "Monday meatballs" were offered by the bowl or in sandwich form—cut into pieces and served between slices of Wonder bread.
Artichoke Basille Pizza, Meatball Sandwich
The meatball itself was tasty if a little bready; it was a nice meatball, but nothing revolutionary. But somehow, when served on the whitest of white bread, it became something far tastier. Maybe it was something about the way the Wonder bread molded around the filling, not quite supporting it, but not collapsing either; or the strangely familiar artificial sweetness. Whatever the reason, the combination was undeniably satisfying. The stand's long line spoke to its wide appeal among the crowd, as well.
Donatella, Polpette di Vitello on Foccacia
Donatella Arpaia, last year's crowned queen of Meatball Madness, wasn't hurting for crowds this year, either. Her dish, a polpette di vitello (a tomato braised veal meatball) was offered plain in a bowl or served on housemade foccacia. The meatball itself was a little too salty, but served on the fresh, doughy foccacia, we had no complaints. Brushed with a slick of olive oil and dusted in salt, that foccacia would have been marvelous on its own. Topped with a very good meatball and soaked with tomato sauce, it was quite remarkable.
Donatella's "famous chocolate cupcake" was very good as well; tiny and moist it was well-topped topped with chocolate hazelnut frosting and hazelnut cream.
Showing off the goods.
Ciano, Veal Meatball
Ciano wins the award for the most impressive team-plating. With shockingly graceful efficiency, a table covered in empty plates was transformed with a small dollop of creamy mashed potatoes, a veal meatball swimming in slow-braised sauce, and a shower of freshly grated cheese. The meatball itself fell short in terms of flavor and consistency (it was a little dry), but the sauce had the deep richness of excellent short ribs. Mixed with the smooth potatoes, it was worth savoring.
Fedora, Chicken Meatball
"What does this taste like?!" I demanded while taking bite after bite of Fedora's wonderfully flavorful chicken meatball. "It does NOT just taste like chicken." Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly and Tony Quartaro, the chefs behind this delicious if confusing creation, smiled a little proudly as they informed me that the flavor-upper of the meatball was (of course!) pork fat. Along with ricotta, red wine, coriander and pepper, it made for a well-textured, surprisingly complex flavor. Served with spicy mayonnaise, maple soy rice, and pickles, the chicken meatball was high on our list of favorites for the evening.
Hearth, Meatball Parm
Hearth can be counted on for thoughtful rib-sticking fare, and their take on a meatball parm exemplified this strength. The flavors were that of an old-school favorite—veal, ricotta, tomato, bread—but the quality of the ingredients and care in the execution put it a step above the sub shop version. Excellent bread and stand-out tomato sauce really made this dish, and the meatball had a nice texture as well.
Hearth's chocolate covered cream puff was excellent as well, sweet, airy, and covered in a slick of melty rich chocolate.
Dirt Candy, "All Balls"
"There's no meat, it's all balls!" we were told cheerfully as we accepted a plate of "All Balls" from Amanda Cohen's vegetarian hot spot Dirt Candy. Served with labneh, preserved lemon and kale, the balls, made mostly of mushrooms (and "secret things" to which we tasters were not privy), this vegetarian attempt stood up impressively next to its meaty counterparts. The 'shrooms provided a hearty smokiness with a hint of spice, nicely balanced by the cool yogurt. My favorite touch, however, may have been the tomato brioche that acted as the base for the dish -- it had the rich sweetness of brioche shot through with a pleasing note of fresh tomato.
Caffe Falai, Veal Meatball with Canellini Beans
I had a good feeling about Caffe Falai's meatball dish from the moment chef Iacopo Falai finished off my plate with a generous pour of golden-rich olive oil. I had an even better feeling as I bit into the meatball; tender, and well-textured, it had the rich, distinct taste of veal that many other dishes had covered up with sauces and spices. Of course, Falai's sauce was stand-out as well—a combination of perfect, ripe-tasting tomato sauced laced with well-cooked canellini beans, it had the comforting effect of a really good ribollita. But the overall bright, fresh flavor made it stand out from your standard comfort food.
Rubirosa Pizzeria e Ristorante, Meatball and Spaghetti Alla Chittara
Rubirosa's meatball was a perfect example of an old school hearty meatball done right; the blend of beef, pork and veal was dense and heavy, but in a good way. Mainly, this was because the denseness came from the meat itself—the blend was neither bready nor grainy. However, the spaghetti alla chittara was the major star of this dish. Springy and fresh, it had all of the best virtues of good fresh pasta. Coated in a very nice tomato sauce, it was only improved when paired with the rich, flavorful meatball.
Al Di Meglio
Pulino's, Meatball with Pine Nuts, Currants and Basil
Pulino's meatball, a nice blend of chicken, pork, and veal, helped me remember how a little basil can make a great dish even better. The meatball itself had a great flavor and consistency; I loved the inclusion of pine nuts, but admittedly didn't really get any of the currant flavor. The drizzle of basil oil added a welcome fresh note to every bite. Served with spicy burnt garlic broccoli rabe, the seemingly simple combination had a complexity of flavor and texture that revealed itself subtly and incredibly well.
Tony Liu at Pulino's
Osteria Morini, Polpette di Proscuitto e Mortadella
An evening of eating meatballs isn't exactly a light dinner, but Michael White's polpette di proscuitto e mortadella really took things to a new level of decadent. The blend of proscuitto and mortadella had all of the redeeming qualities of quality cured meat -- deep flavor, excellent saltiness, and of course, an intense fattiness. Served with tomato sauce and ebette e crema di Parmigiano (swiss chard and parmesan cream), the dish was simultaneously delicious and incredibly difficult to finish. Of course, leave it to Osteria Morini to make a meatball so good that we did anyway.